Megan's Law: Just do it!
Megan’s Law: Just do it! By Alison R.G. van Diggelen My heart was pounding, my eyes teary. I felt as though I was going to explode into a million pieces. I had come to the local Policing Center to confront my deepest fears and glimpse a cruel world: the list of registered sex offenders that live in my neighborhood. As I opened the door to the reception area, a wave of panic washed over me. I almost turned around, but something stopped me. This was for my kids. Megan’s Law has been all over the news recently and every single time I said, “I must check it out,” but there was always something more urgent, more pressing to do. In reality, I was terrified about what I might find. I was also dismayed that this crucial information is not available on the web. In California, it’s easier to order your week’s groceries online than check what is now public record. Two things hardened my resolve. First the story last month about the mom who found out through the Megan’s Law database that her 5-year old son’s “touchy-feely” violin teacher was in fact a convicted child molester. Secondly, I read “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold, a story of fiction that captured a tragedy similar to the real story of Megan Kanka (after whom Megan’s Law is named) about a young girl who is raped and murdered by a neighbor. So last week, I went with two good friends to visit my Community Policing Center. We were all pale and jittery, but the burly police officer put us at ease. “Don’t worry yourselves sick,” he said. We were asked to show our driver’s licenses and fill in a form stating that the information is for personal use only and will not be used to harass or victimize the offenders. There is no charge. One at a time we were invited to go behind the counter and punch in our zip code on the computer. In less than ten minutes Colleen had finished her search and with a heavy sigh of relief came round and sat with me. Karin was up next, and her 4-year old sat next to me coloring in bright pinks and blues. I watched Karin carefully. In seconds her tanned face wore a look of panic, her mouth making a huge “O”, her brown eyes wide. A mother’s worst fear: she recognized someone on the list of serious offenders. “Oh, my God!” she whispered. “I wouldn’t worry, just be cautious,” the police officer advised. I was up next and felt weak around the knees. The database shows all the registered offenders for your zip code. You see a photo of each, full name and any aliases, age, height, ethnic origin and a list of offenses. Some men look creepy, others (perhaps more worryingly) look as ordinary as the guy down the street. What you don’t get is a street address, but, as Karin found, if you recognize them, you recognize them and can take the proper precautions. I recognized none and felt an incredible relief. We went to a bakery afterwards. Over coffee, Karin was calmer. This was not someone on her street, this was someone in business, a business she could easily avoid. We talked about how we can protect our kids. Having faced our fears, we all felt a tremendous burden lifted. For me, that feeling of assurance wore off later when I read on www.parentsformeganslaw.com that about 24% of the nation’s sex offenders are failing to comply and register. It’s an empowering feeling to have checked the database. I’d encourage you to do it too. Take a friend or two for support. Remember, it’s for your kids. Editor's note: Information is now available online, even in California. For national information: see www.parentsformeganslaw.com About the author: Alison van Diggelen is the editor of siliconmom.com © siliconmom